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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting gem from the Von Trier back catalogue
Is it a hypnotically induced psychological nightmare or a descent into the reality of a Nazi regime? Lars Von Trier's award winning exposition into post-war Germany takes you on a subconscious journey through the eyes of Leopold Kessler, brilliantly played by Jean-Mark Barr. Von Trier lures you into this post war psychodrama via a train journey on the Zentropa railway...
Published on 7 July 2004

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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent and unforgettable film, alas, on a flawed DVD
This is easily one of the most striking and memorable films I have ever seen. It draws the viewer in immediately and tells a well-paced, rewarding and dark tale of a cruel and tragic time in Europe's recent history, from an unusual perspective. In 1992 as I watched it unfold in the cinema I was convinced it was the best film I had seen in perhaps ten years...and the final...
Published on 14 Aug 2002 by feverpitch96


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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent and unforgettable film, alas, on a flawed DVD, 14 Aug 2002
By 
feverpitch96 "Never mix, never worry" (Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Europa [1991] [DVD] (DVD)
This is easily one of the most striking and memorable films I have ever seen. It draws the viewer in immediately and tells a well-paced, rewarding and dark tale of a cruel and tragic time in Europe's recent history, from an unusual perspective. In 1992 as I watched it unfold in the cinema I was convinced it was the best film I had seen in perhaps ten years...and the final scene left me literally speechless and rather disturbed during the 30-minute drive home with my partner afterwards. This is not easy to do.
"Europa" (renamed "Zentropa" for its non-European cinema release) is a stunning conclusion to eccentric Dane Lars von Trier's so-called "Europa Trilogy", begun with "The Element of Crime" in 1984 and continued with "Epidemic" in 1988. Why Tartan Video have chosen to release only two of these three films at this point on DVD seems somewhat of a mystery.
Filmed in Denmark and Poland, with German, French, American and Danish actors (and a Swedish narrator!), in the English language with occasional passages of German, this is truly a multi-national effort.
von Trier presents us with a dark, wet, dreary, frequently-sinister and mainly-monochrome world in which there are few happy endings, brutally realistic vignettes of human nature and no easy solutions. The end of WWII has left Germany a broken, violent, mean, amoral and mercenary place, its remaining people deeply brutalised, its society and industry almost totally destroyed by the invading and retaliating Allied forces. The American occupying force is reorganising ex-Nazi Germany's industries and economy and offers the only stability of law, and it is clear that Compromise is the order of the day if Germany is to find its feet as a nation again. The society is divided between those who welcome the efforts of the American occupiers and the "Werewolves", those who still harbour Nazi sympathies and wreak vengeance on those of their German countryfolk who collaborate with the Americans.
Into this situation arrives Leopold Kessler (played by French actor Jean-Marc Barr), a young American of German origins. During WWII, he had taken a pacifist stance and refused to fight in the US Army, deserting instead. Now he has come to Germany in the belief that he can make a positive difference to help rebuild Germany in this uneasy peacetime. His dour and war-embittered uncle finds him a job on the newly-relaunched Zentropa national railway (which was used to transport Jews to death camps during the war) as a trainee sleeping-car conductor. Effectively an American foreigner, his presence is resented by many. He quickly falls foul of a deeply inflexible and perfectionist German work ethic (the most often-used German phrase in the film translates into English as "those are the rules"). As an idealist, he falls between the two camps into which Germany is divided and, particularly once he falls in love and becomes involved with the story of the Zentropa-controlling Hartmann family, finds that his idealism is making him a well-intentioned pawn of both sides in the struggle for power.
Critics of von Trier's feature films often argue that his films are lacking in "humanity", and that they therefore simply follow a cynical formula to manipulate an audience. But surely this criticism is more fairly aimed at most latter-day Hollywood "human interest" films, and whatever one's views of von Trier as auteur, there is much to emotionally affect most viewers in this grandly surreal cinematic postcard from late-1945 Germany, which frequently stylistically quotes many of von Trier's own idols, from Welles to Hitchcock and many more. Here, von Trier borrows heavily from the epic style of so many wartime and post-war romance/thrillers (Third Man, Casablanca, etc), adding his own signature twists and curveballs along the way, and it certainly pays off! Beautifully composed throughout, this one bears many viewings.
von Trier makes frequent and powerful use of front/rear-projection techniques, as well as selective and judicious use of colour, to tell the story with an added dreamlike quality. This is initiated at the film's memorable beginning, as Max von Sydow's hypnotic introductory narration invites the audience to sink into a celluloid dream.
The film, then, is worth 5 stars. This disc, however, is another matter. The film notes are interesting reading, and the print of the film seems almost pristine....The occasional English subtitles are optional, which is nice. However, while the feature is anamorphic widescreen, it has been zoomed from the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 to approx 1.78:1, presumably to neatly fit widescreen TVs. This makes a nonsense of many of von Trier's beautifully-composed widescreen images, with so much information missing from either side of the frame. Ironically, the included theatrical trailer is in anamorphic 2.35:1...why? To show us what we're missing in the main feature? The point is rammed home when the image flattens out to 2.35:1 at the end of the film to accommodate the end credits... There also appear to be one or two instances of monochrome being substituted for a splash of von Trier colour, e.g. in one shot in the Ravenstein scene.
So, a thoroughly engaging and affecting film which should reward all who see it is finally released to DVD for the first time, on a seriously flawed disc. ...the von Trier film-buff deserves better. If you must have this film now, in whatever aspect ratio, get it. ...
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting gem from the Von Trier back catalogue, 7 July 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Europa [1991] [DVD] (DVD)
Is it a hypnotically induced psychological nightmare or a descent into the reality of a Nazi regime? Lars Von Trier's award winning exposition into post-war Germany takes you on a subconscious journey through the eyes of Leopold Kessler, brilliantly played by Jean-Mark Barr. Von Trier lures you into this post war psychodrama via a train journey on the Zentropa railway complex, which exposes the climate of guilt and anti-American feeling of post-war Germany.
Set in 1945, Leopold Kessler(Jean-Mark Barr) is an American with German heritage, who goes back to Germany to help with the restoration of the country. His pacifist ideals however, are soon challenged upon the realisation that he is being used as a pawn by the Werwolf Nazi organisation. His love interest, seductively played by Barbara Sukowa (The Third Miracle, Johnny Mnemonic), is Katarina, the Nazi sympathising daughter of Max Hartmann the railway owner, played by Jorgen Reenberg.
The story is partly narrated by Max Von Sydow, in the form of hypnotic suggestions that add to the surreal quality of the film. The hypnotic theme runs congruently with the desire of the railway owner to repress the memory of the war-time function of the trains which was to carry Jewish prisoners to concentration camps. This is portrayed in a scene brilliantly handled by the masterful Von Trier, where Kessler walks through the train and time into hidden carriages containing concentration camp prisoners and the inescapable truth of the past. This post war repression is further signified by the constant pulling down of the shutters on the train, in an attempt to block out the reality of post-war Germany and the repercussions of the war.
Barbara Sukowa gives an explosive performance as Katarina, and the gradual discovery as to where her loyalties lie give the film an edge of suspense and mystery. Kessler's long suffering but authoritarian uncle is stoically played by Ernst-Hugo Jaragard, who manages to capture the uneasy union of a militant mentality and avuncular affection.
Von Trier's use of rear projection and manipulation of colour with black and white stand in stark contrast to his later works (The Idiots) as these devices have been curtailed under the conventions of the Dogme Collective. In Europa however, they serve to reinforce the surrealist elements of the film, giving emphasis to the main protagonists and lending a distinctive dreamlike quality to the film. A parallel could be drawn between the surrealist nature of Europa and the use of music in Dancer in the Dark to create a hallucinatory sequence, an element often found in Von Trier's work.
Europa is a gripping and absorbing film that takes you on a journey you may wish you had never started. Harrowing, but immensely involving it is a masterpiece that will leave you breathless and aching for more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lars Von Trier before Dogma95, 20 Feb 2006
By 
Tim Spencer "n1cked" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Europa [1991] [DVD] (DVD)
This fine film is, to some tastes, a bit "tricksy" and far too self-knowing. However this movie was made before Trier became an exponant of the Dogme95 philosophy towards film-making (watch films like Festen, The Idiots, etc if you want to know more about this anti-hollywood style of movie making).
However, Europa is a damn good thriller as well as being clever. Parts of the film will keep you at the edge of your seat, Trier really is a true craftsman in film art. Europa also has a very (deliberate) hynotic and dream-like quality.
Without giving away any "spoilers" - the ending is fabulous. It really is about the darkness that is Europe and is aptly set in Germany just after WW2, where Nazi terrorists still lurk in the shadows and occupying forces ruthlessly hunt down any sympathisers. Unfortunately for the main protagonist (played by Jean Marc Barr) sitting on the fence is likely to get you killed...
I can't recommend this film highly enough. It is a shame Trier is unlikely to ever make a film like this again. Much as I like his Dogme95 films (especially Dancer in The Dark and Breaking the Waves) - I feel that this was a style of film-making that could have been continued and developed by Mr Trier...
Buy it now... especially if you want an intellegent thriller and are sick of CGI laden hollywood movies...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic viewing, 7 July 2006
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
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Seen together, Lars Von Trier's Europa trilogy isn't exactly a profound experience, but it does underline the fact that even when he's boring he's never dull. On one level, none of them should work and none of them do, yet on another there's an audacity to them that engages far more than the subject matter: at times, the hypnotic execution is more than enough to compensate for the narrative confusion. Indeed, the whole trilogy seems to be driven by dreams and trances. Element of Crime is a tale emotionlessly told by a detective under hypnosis, his lack of passion in his voice-over often mirrored by the artificiality of the performances and the dreamlike imagery of a burned out, waterlogged Europe that feels like one of the fevered headaches that consume him as he becomes the monster he is supposedly tracing down. Epidemic even ends with an apocalyptic hypnotic trance as the parasitic pair of Von Trier and his insufferably smug screenwriter Niels Vorsel, who have been feeding on the pain and misery of others for inspiration for a script, even turning a painful memory from Udo Kier into a scene in their proposed film, ultimately reap what they sow. A mixture of the odd great image (Von Trier's doctor hanging from a rope with a Red Cross flag attached) and the mundane, it's an apt reminder of just how similar the act of artistic creation can be to a contagious disease that wounds those who come into its orbit.

Europa, aka Zentropa, opens with Max Von Sydow's unseen narrator hypnotising the audience to bring them into the film. The film itself is the closest to a mainstream narrative of the trilogy, but even here Von Trier is constantly undercutting his noirish plot - an idealistic American becomes a pawn in the amoral politics of post-War Germany still plagued by the Nazi `Werwolf' resistance movement - with both strikingly expressionistic imagery (not least an audacious use of backprojected images) and that trademark fevered confusion until mindless destruction seems the only release. Of the three, this is the most visually audacious, with a superb use of black and white scope imagery that helps compensate for the awful performances by Jean Marc-Barr and Barbara Sukowa (who once again proves that she may be able to speak English and German but she can't act in either of them). Still, the presence of Ernst-Hugo Jaregard (so wonderful in The Kingdom) ensures that not all the cast are carved from wood.

Full marks for the excellent presentation - not only is Europa/Zentropa finally presented in 2.35:1 (the previous issue from Tartan was cropped to 1.85:1) but there are a huge number of interviews and documentaries spread over the three discs and the bonus fourth disc telling you everything you could want to know and more (sadly at least one doc is not subtitled in English). As well as trailers (including additional trailers for all Von Trier's films to date) and audio commentaries, there are two interesting Easter Eggs - Von Trier's graduation film Images of Relief (on Epidemic) and the short film Nocturne on Element of Crime.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Why go to all the trouble and then no Widescreen?, 29 Sep 2006
By 
Evilronin (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Europa [1991] [DVD] (DVD)
Why does Tartan Video continue to get the rights to these great films for DVD release, do a great job at cleaning the prints, good transfer, then chop up the frame? WHY?! This is a great film, never before released on DVD, Tartan was ahead of the pack, I was excited, then the big let down. I saw this when it first came out and the scope and framing never been more essential in a film than this one, and Tartan dropped the ball badly. And they continue to do so with other great films. Maybe is just the British market over all, for some reason, most of the distributors like to put ALL films on 1.77:1 Anamorphic WS regardless of the original aspect ratio. Eureka putting our Kwaidan, another beautiful 2.35:1 AR movie, cropped to 1.77:1, WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?! I say hold out, don't encourage these people. Rent it if you have to, but buying it would only supports this awful behavior.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One-star DVD release of a five-star film., 9 Feb 2008
This review is from: Europa (Zentropa) [DVD] (DVD)
All the criticisms voiced by the previous reviewers regarding the quality of this particular DVD are true. If you want to see Europa as it was meant to be seen, in a correct 2:35.1 aspect ratio, with 5.1 surround sound and the much needed colour corrections, then I would recommend purchasing the 'E Trilogy Box Set' (2005), which includes digitally re-mastered versions of von Trier's first three films The Element of Crime, Epidemic and the film in question (my review of that particular product can be found on this very same site). As a result, this review will focus entirely on the merits of the film itself, which for me, is one of the greatest and perhaps most underappreciated films of the last thirty-five years. The review is as follows...

Concluding the trilogy of films that began almost a decade earlier with the dark, industrial influenced film-noir experiment The Element of Crime (1984) and continuing with the largely unseen experimental horror-satire Epidemic (1987), this multi-layered, visually expressive post-war thriller finds precocious auteur Lars von Trier in his cinematic element; creating a mind bending and deeply hallucinogenic film-noir appropriation that references sources as diverse as Hitchcock, Bergman, Welles and Murnau, to create a myriad of expressionistic images, philosophies and moments of heart-stopping tension.

As with his later, more widely seen work, such as Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998), von Trier structures the film with a complete disregard for mainstream movie conventions - not just throwing out the cinematic rule book, but proudly stampeding it - as he strings together scene after scene of ethereal beauty; all backed by the haunting and distinctive narration of Max Von Sydow and the thrilling music of Joakim Holbek. The result is a film like no other; revelling in pretension and cinematic excess; Europa (1991) knows exactly what it is and raises a middle finger to anyone who refuses to buy into its central ideology. In keeping with the director's earlier works, the plot of Europa is threadbare, but never less than interesting; as Jean Marc Barr's bookish American goes back to Germany in the wake of World War II to discover his roots and lend a hand in the rebuilding of the country. Barr's character, Leopold Kessler, is a brazenly idealistic young man, peering out from behind his spectacles with wide eyes as he bravely suffers ridicule and contempt from all around him. Amongst this central narrative device we have the usual film-noir conventions of shadowy businessmen, the femme-fatale, etc. However, the film always comes back to von Trier's central ideology. If we have learned anything from the director's work, it is the ultimate image of the idealist being brought slowly to their knees and eventually destroyed. In both Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark (2000), von Trier concludes that those who live in false hope will sooner or later be smashed by a manipulative and un-loving system.

His most successful realisation of this was with the aforementioned Dancer in the Dark, in which he mixed elements of melodrama and musical theatre with social-realist concerns to create a somewhat misguided indictment of the American judicial system within the context of a 1950's cinematic universe. His most controversial film, Breaking the Waves, again saw the destruction of a central martyr, with the childlike Emily Watson sacrificing her body to Christ - and various lecherous old men - in order to cure her crippled husband. With Europa, von Trier would lay the groundwork for these following films, whilst once again condemning the American's shallow, self-riotous image and animosity in the face of war (though perhaps more multi-faceted than that one-line assessment might suggest). The director also throws in ideas of fascism, terrorism and a hearty helping of post-modern references, though all in the name of cinematic experimentation, high style and unashamed visual manipulation.

Shot in a sort of off black and white - meaning that the images have been given a silvery blue tint, with deeply rich shadows - and framed in anamorphic cinemascope, Europa twists and turns with one jaw-dropping set piece after another. A simple assassination sequence is drawn out using forced perspectives, colour juxtaposition and rear screen projection to dizzying effect, and the way that the camera cranes and tracks, constantly offering us layer upon layer of visual symbolism is truly amazing. The iconography is bold, yet slightly clear-cut in comparison to the courageous departures that von Trier made with his earlier film The Element of Crime. Here we have he an expressionistic vision of Europe in severe decline, with Germany attempting to claw themselves out of the ashes and regain power as an important society (leading up to the eventual economic miracle of the early 1950's). Some have criticized Barr's character for not being heroic enough, missing the point of the film entirely. Kessler isn't supposed to be the hero, but rather a patsy or a puppet. He's an American going back to a country that his own military helped destroy, representing arrogant idealism; pointing out Germany's own weaknesses and posturing to gain acceptance. This is a much bleaker film once we start dealing with the issues of sub-text, as the scene that prefigures a prominent funeral will attest. For me, this is a stirring and imaginative film dealing with themes such as deception, manipulation and eventually, corruption.

With Europa, von Trier has structured a beautifully designed and thematically quite gripping thriller with both political and cinematic reference points in abundance. Most filmmakers would be terrified to put the viewer to sleep within the first five minutes, but Europa takes up that challenge, using Von Sydow's haunting voice to lull the viewer into a state of assumed hypnosis. Needless to say the film employs ideas of dream-logic, unfolding subjectively and expressionistically from the central character's point of view. The is a film that will linger long in the mind of anyone who experiences it, as the closing moments leave the audience adrift at sea, or as lost as Leopold Kessler. As Von Sydow observes in the film's closing narration; "we want to wake up, to leave behind the images of Europa... but it is not possible".
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars only interesting, 1 Feb 2008
By 
A. radford "Radders" (Cambs, Uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Europa [1991] [DVD] (DVD)
I viewed this film on the strength of previous reviews. But I can only agree with some aspects of those reviews. The style is interesting with unusual uses of colour within black and white shots. A clear attempt at producing both hypnotic and dream like qualities, using a monotone narrative and strange camera trickery, largely fail and become annoying. It is interesting hystorically, as my awareness of the nazi resistance to occupation prior to this film was nil, but the film does not show any interest in the motivation of the resistance. The characters are dull and I found myself completely uninterested in their fate. At the end of the film I just wanted to know more about Germany after the war but was totally unmoved.
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Europa [1991] [DVD]
Europa [1991] [DVD] by Lars von Trier (DVD - 2002)
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